University of Wisconsin–Madison

Abigail Adams

Abigail Adams Headshot

“Hope and Fear have been the two ruling passions of a large portion of my life…” (1783, Abigail Adams)

“I detest still life, and had rather be jostled than inanimate.” (1796, Abigail Adams)

Biographical Information (pdf) 

Descriptions of Abigail Adams

  • John Adams to Abigail Adams - July 7, 1775

    It gives me more Pleasure than I can express to learn that you sustain with so much Fortitude, the Shocks and Terrors of the Times. You are really brave, my dear, you are an Heroine. And you have Reason to be. For the worst that can happen, can do you no Harm. A soul, as pure, as benevolent, as virtuous and pious as yours has nothing to fear, but every Thing to hope and expect from the last of human Evils.

  • John Adams to Mary Palmer - July 5, 1776

    In Times as turbulent as these, commend me to the Ladies for Historiographers. The Gentlemen are too much engaged in Action. The Ladies are cooler Spectators. . . . There is a Lady at the Foot of Penn’s Hill, who obliges me, from Time to Time with clearer and fuller Intelligence, than I can get from a whole Committee of Gentlemen.

  • Abigail Adams to John Adams - August 24, 1783

    I know not how to realize that I shall see you soon. Hope and Fear have been the two ruling passions of a large portion of my Life, and I have been banded from one to the other like a tennis Ball.

  • Abigail Adams to John Adams - January 3, 1784

    Why with a Heart Susceptible of every tender impression, and feelingly alive, have I So often been called to Stand alone and support myself through Scenes which have almost torn it assunder, not I fear, because I have more resolution or fortitude than others, for my resolution often fails me; and my fortitude wavers.

  • Abigail Adams to Mary Cranch - April 24, 1786

    [She wishes she could shed some pounds.] . . . and having bestowed some pounds I should move nimbler and feel lighter. Tis true I enjoy good Health, but am larger than both my sisters compounded. Mr. Adams too keeps pace with me, and if one Horse had to carry us, I should pity the poor Beast, but your Niece is moulded into a shape as Slender as a Grey hound, and is not be sure more than half as large as she was when she first left America. The Spring is advancing and I begin to walk so that I hope exercise will be of service to me.

  • Abigail Adams to Thomas Jefferson - July 23, 1786

    I suppose you must have heard the report respecting Col. Smith—that he has taken my daughter from me, a contrivance between him and the Bishop of St. Asaph. It is true he tendered me a Son as an equivalent and it was no bad offer, but I had three Sons before, and but one Daughter. Now I have been thinking of an exchange with you sir, suppose you give me Miss Jefferson, and in some future day take a Son in lieu of her. I am for Strengthening the federal Union.

  • Thomas Jefferson to James Madison - May 25, 1788

    [Referring to John Adams’s praise for Jefferson.] The good Lady his wife has been often talkative in a similar strain, and she is as complete a politician as any Lady in the old French Court.

  • John Adams to Abigail Adams - February 4, 1794

    You apologize for the length of your Letters and I ought to excuse the shortness and Emptiness of mine. Yours give me more entertainment than all the speeches I hear. There is more good Thoughts, fine strokes and Mother Wit in them than I hear in the Whole Week. An Ounce of Mother Wit is worth a Pound of Clergy and I rejoice that one of my children [i.e., John Quincy Adams] at least has an Abundance of not only Mother Wit, but his Mother’s Wit. It is one of the most amiable and striking Traits in his Compositions. It appeared in all its Glory and severity in Barneveld.

  • Abigail Adams to John Adams - March 28, 1796

    I detest still life, and had rather be jostled than inanimate.

  • Julian Ursyn Niemcewicz, Travels through America - November 8, 1797

    I passed then into a room opposite and I found there the true counterpart of Mr. Adams. It was his wife. Small, short and squat, she is accused of a horrible crime. It is said she puts on rouge. What is certain is that if her manner is not the most affable, her mind is well balanced and cultivated.

  • Benjamin Rush, Sketches - post 1801

    The pleasures of these evenings [in conversation with John Adams] was much enhanced by the society of Mrs. Adams, who in point of talent, knowledge, virtue, and female accomplishments was in every respect fitted to be the friend and companion of her husband in all his different and successive stations, of private citizen, member of Congress, foreign minister, Vice President and President of the United States.

  • Fisher Ames to Rufus King-September 24, 1800

    [Referring to John Adams’s praise for Jefferson.] The good Lady his wife has been often talkative in a similar strain, and she is as complete a politician as any Lady in the old French Court.